Tales of Hearsay
Outside the large single window the crepuscular light was dying out slowly in a
great square gleam without colour, framed rigidly in the gathering shades of the
It was a long room. The irresistible tide of the night ran into the most distant part
of it, where the whispering of a man's voice, passionately interrupted and
passionately renewed, seemed to plead against the answering murmurs of
At last no answering murmur came. His movement when he rose slowly from his
knees by the side of the deep, shadowy couch holding the shadowy suggestion
of a reclining woman revealed him tall under the low ceiling, and sombre all over
except for the crude discord of the white collar under the shape of his head and
the faint, minute spark of a brass button here and there on his uniform.
He stood over her a moment, masculine and mysterious in his immobility, before
he sat down on a chair near by. He could see only the faint oval of her upturned
face and, extended on her black dress, her pale hands, a moment before
abandoned to his kisses and now as if too weary to move.
He dared not make a sound, shrinking as a man would do from the prosaic
necessities of existence. As usual, it was the woman who had the courage. Her
voice was heard first—almost conventional while her being vibrated yet with
"Tell me something," she said.
The darkness hid his surprise and then his smile. Had he not just said to her
everything worth saying in the world—and that not for the first time!
"What am I to tell you?" he asked, in a voice creditably steady. He was beginning
to feel grateful to her for that something final in her tone which had eased the
"Why not tell me a tale?"
"A tale!" He was really amazed.
"Yes. Why not?"
These words came with a slight petulance, the hint of a loved woman's capricious
will, which is capricious only because it feels itself to to be a law, embarrassing
sometimes and always difficult to elude.
"Why not?" he repeated, with a slightly mocking accent, as though he had been
asked to give her the moon. But now he was feeling a little angry with her for that
feminine mobility that slips out of an emotion as easily as out of a splendid gown.
He heard her say, a little unsteadily with a sort of fluttering intonation which made
him think suddenly of a butterfly's flight:
"You used to tell—your—your simple and—and professional—tales very well at
one time. Or well enough to interest me. You had a—a sort of art—in the days—
the days before the war."
"Really?" he said, with involuntary gloom. "But now, you see, the war is going
on," he continued in such a dead, equable tone that she felt a slight chill fall over